It's ironic that in a week where the Premier League has signed a record-busting new television deal - and we're all meant to be saluting the juggernaut that is English top flight football - that I've been contemplating an experience that has made me realise how far removed the beautiful game is from the sport I fell in love with as a kid.
I write about football for my blog every week. For the past two years I've been choosing to watch different teams around the UK in line with where my comedy travels take me. I've got a couple of rules: I can't watch my own team (Leicester City) and I can't watch Premier League teams (as I've been to every club in the top flight already). My travels have taken me to clubs as small as Hastings (in a great FA Trophy game featuring a cameo from an unknown Brazilian who now plays in Malta) all the way up to Championship sides like Brentford, Bournemouth, Wigan and Middlesbrough. I've had a smashing time and made a lot of friends along the way, as well as experiencing some fantastic crowds and watching some great games.
Once a year I'll head overseas to watch a match. Last season I went to Ajax as part of my honeymoon - because my wife has been long-suffering since day one with me - and it was a tremendous experience with 55,000 fans making as much noise as they possibly could. This season I traveled to watch Borussia Dortmund play in the Bundesliga, something of a bucket list trip for me.
We've all heard about German football and how cheap it is compared to the sport here. Once you go there, you realise that it's impressive in so many more ways that just financially. I'll never stop loving football in England, but seeing it in Germany was a massive epiphany in my life as a fan.
First off, the cost is low. Dortmund may be having a ropey season (we saw them lose 1-0 to Augsburg) but they're still one of the biggest clubs in the world. Over 80,000 packed into Signal Iduna Park and we had some of the more expensive tickets at 44 Euros. To stand on the famous Sudtribune - or Yellow Wall - it costs 15 Euros per game and season tickets represent a much fairer saving than they do in the UK. There's a waiting list of several years for a standing season ticket, and around 50,000 fans have season tickets around the stadium. These fans are rewarded for their loyalty; it's hard to imagine the Dortmund board telling their fans that they HAD to buy a ticket for a cup game or they'd have to miss one - like Manchester United did to their supporters.
The way we were treated when buying our match tickets demonstrated an interest in the fans wellbeing that English clubs don't come anywhere near. Over here everything is subject to booking fees, no refunds and so on. When I inquired about visiting Dortmund, the club reserved me nine tickets before the game actually went on sale. When I asked about paying a deposit, they told me that there was no need, they trusted me. Furthermore, they didn't charge a booking fee.
The trust between club and fans is a powerful bond forged by mutual respect. Dortmund know how important their hard-core vocal fans are (which is the vast majority of the 80,000 at each game), but those fans are also ridiculously well behaved. They're allowed to drink alcohol around and inside the ground (in glass bottles, no less), put up their flags around the stadium and the pre-match entertainment is there to encourage noise and remind the fans of their significance to the intimidating atmosphere.
Even little things like food within the ground are priced in order to maintain happiness. The most I have ever paid for a burger in a English stadium is £4.50; a Bratwurst in Signal Iduna Park will cost you Euro 2.20. If you return your beer glass at the end of the game you get a small refund.
All of this fan care goes a long way. The costs being low mean that fans can come back week after week, and the relentless loyalty that the fans demonstrate led to me making a conclusion even before the game kicked off: I may love my club, but I don't love it anywhere near as much as those guys do.
Despite being at their very worst on the pitch, the fans on the terraces didn't boo or jeer their team during the game at all. Likewise at final whistle the stadium remained full; the fans let their team know how they felt about them at the end with whistles and boos from the Yellow Wall (the man sat next to us told us "this has never happened before, I am very sorry") but instead of petulance from the players the fans got an apology - sat on the fence at the front of the terrace - from goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller and captain Mats Hummels.
The entire experience was an eye-opener. Before the match the atmosphere felt as special as it did the first time I went to a game in 1984, or the first time I visited Wembley in 1992. It's an electric place built on loyalty and a true love for the team - the club's motto is "Echte Liebe" which means "Real Love". A game between the hosts and a small Bavarian club on a Wednesday night can feel as magical as football can be.
Instead of chasing money and television deals across the planet, I'd rather the Premier League and the Football Association went out to Germany and witnessed how special football really can be. They're doing it right out there - not just on the pitch, but behind the scenes and on the terraces. No matter how big a TV deal is, the game is nothing without us fans. As it stands right now, I'm planning my next trip to Dortmund already. No Premier League atmosphere could rival it right now. There's a reason that over 1,000 UK fans make the trip to Westphalia for every home game.